Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review by Dave Coates and some thoughts about why I wrote Fauverie

Dave Coates has reviewed Fauverie on his blog and for the spring issue of Poetry Wales. His is an in-depth analysis that explores the spirit of my book:


Here is an excerpt:
"Fauverie works partly in light of her 2001 collection The Zoo Father, if at all possible I’d also recommend reading the earlier book."
"Though it too has its moments of tenderness, The Zoo Father seems in its most emotionally charged moments an angry book. In the first section its imaginative strength is employed in disempowering, making safe or actively harming the father in something like acts of retribution; these poems explicitly relate what the father has done to his family, and are difficult and painful to read. It’s an important collection, one I wish I’d read sooner. Fourteen years later, Fauverie – though it too openly confronts plain facts of violence and abuse – is at heart, I think, a book about finding peace. Though the organising details – the poet visiting her father on his deathbed in Paris – are the same, it does not so much re-write the story as examine it from different angles. The third poem in the collection, ‘Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier’, quite explicitly questions the morality of returning to a story, or of selecting another imaginative reality:
‘The one a nightingale serenades
just because he’s in pain – that’s
the father I choose, not the man
who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes
so their songs will carry for miles.’

The poem ends with this certainty undermined:

‘He does not make canaries trill so loud
that the tiny branches of their lungs
burst. I am sure of this, though I am just
an ounce in the fist of his hand.’

The poem sets out the risk being taken in this re-examination; the book gives the father a voice on several occasions, and at times permits a view of him not solely as the monster of The Zoo Father, but as an old man himself confronting death; though the potential even for a dying man to commit or denote violence is, as in these lines, rarely far from the surface. It is noticeable, for example, that the father’s pleasures, like ‘Pâté de Foie Gras’ or ‘Ortolan’, require the incarceration and torture of wild animals.
He concludes: 
"The final line of the poem and book is ‘I proclaimed peace after bloodshed’; for Fauverie to find this redress at a cost very clearly laid out in the body of the collection, this balancing of books where The Zoo Father perhaps did not, is a rather extraordinary gesture."
It might seem strange to write two books about an abusive father. I didn't expect to write a second. I hope they are not just 'confessional' books. I see my personal experience as an insight into the problem of violence against women and children, rape and child abuse, the abuse of power. It seems a worldwide issue within the family and society. At its worst, there is sadism as well as contempt for women, as apparent in the case of the 2012 Delhi gang rape of a 23 year-old student, Jyoti Singh, on a bus, where the young woman shortly afterwards died of her injuries. I can't comprehend why those young men did that.

I have, however understood some of the factors that made my father behave as he did, he even explained one of them to me, that he himself was abused in the Jesuit school he attended, though he didn't explain that to accept any guilt, just to justify why he went wild when he left home.

It was important to me that in Fauverie every attempt is made to redeem the father as he was dying, but not to flinch from what he has done. If I couldn't forgive him in life perhaps I can in a book, in art.

Image credit: Dragana Nicolic, from the illustrated edition of The Zoo Father, Serbia.


  1. Fauverie does that job well, Pascale. The lush imagery makes beauty out of something terrible, which is what true art does. That knife-edge balance makes this such a complex yet accessible book. I love it.

  2. Thank you Angela, your response means a lot to me.